As the weather is getting more chilly outside, I find myself reaching for a blanket and a warm cup of tea. I’ve been drinking tea all my life, so I know my tastes and preferences. However, I figured it was time to switch it up a bit, and I started looking into all the latest tea trends and creative brands.
I’d like to share this information so that you can cozy up in your own home with a perfect cup of tea and a good book[vertical-spacer]
In this post, I provide a brief overview of the different types of tea leaves to provide some general knowledge for you to talk about tea like an intelligent person. I’ll also recommend some of my favorite teas so you can find the best tea to drink for your own needs and preferences.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means (at no additional cost to you), I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Tea Is Like Wine
Sometimes you want to relax with a warm drink so you’ll drink the cheapest or most convenient tea available. But if you take a few days to learn about teas and keep exploring different types, you can become a real connoisseur.
You’ll be amazed at the varieties available from different regions around the world and be able to identify between complex flavor profiles.
If you’ve been wondering what kind of tea you should be drinking, join me as we start to explore all of our options to find the perfect tea for you.
Types of Tea
There are two main types of tea: one comes from the tea plant (Camellia sinensis) and the other types don’t come from the tea plant. All the others ones aren’t technically supposed to be called tea, but everyone does, so let’s do it too.
* don’t use this rationale too often in life *
For this article, I consider “tea” as anything that you steep in water to obtain an infused water profile.
Tea leaves all come from the same Camellia sinensis plant but vary in flavor based on how the leaves are processed and how much oxygen the leaves are exposed to (i.e., “oxidized”). There are 5 main categories of tea. In order of increasing oxidation/processing: white, green, oolong, black, and pu-erh.
Generally, the less oxidized a tea leaf is, the lighter the aroma and taste.
Herbal and Floral Teas
Herbal and floral teas come from a variety of plants (anything not Camellia sinensis). Dry out most plants, and you can make “tea leaves” out of it by steeping it in water when you’re ready to drink.
Most herbal and floral teas have no caffeine.
Types of Tea Leaves
White tea is the least processed type of tea and is not oxidized. The leaves for white tea are plucked young. This method yields a very delicate flavor profile and tastes gentle and flowery.
Green tea is also unoxidized but is processed a bit more than white tea. There are two main ways of preparing the leaves for tea.
Chinese green teas are usually roasted or fired in a pan to stop the oxidation process. This method results in a golden/yellow brew with a variety of flavor profiles. You may have heard of the Chinese tea Jasmine.
Japanese green teas are usually steamed and result in a truly green-colored tea. Popular Japanese green tea includes Matcha (made into a powder) and Sencha.
Matcha has an abnormally high amount of caffeine because of the way it’s prepared (you consume the entire leaf in powder form instead of steeping the leaves).
Oolong tea is partially oxidized (between 10% to 85%). As a result of this wide range of oxidation levels, oolong tea has the largest range of taste profiles. These leaves can also be steeped multiple times and provide a different taste with each steep.
Black tea is fully oxidized. It is the most popular form of tea in the US (e.g., Lipton as “America’s Favorite Tea“). It’s also popular in Britain where they create a “blends” like Earl Grey (scented with bergamot) or English Breakfast. If you want fancy black tea, look for ones that come from a single estate with a good reputation (i.e., Darjeeling or Assam in India).
Pu’erh is a fermented tea that is purposely aged to increase its flavor profile. Like wine! It’s processed in a way to encourage microbial fermentation. It’s not very popular in the US right now, but Saveur describes it as the “Helen of Troy of tea that gets aged like whiskey, dosed like drugs, and coveted by millionaires.” My guess is that it’s definitely going to grow in popularity soon, probably like quinoa or Açaí.
Caffeine Levels in Tea
There’s a wide misconception that the less oxidized a tea leaf is, the lower the levels of caffeine (i.e., white tea has the lowest levels, and black tea has the highest).
However, this is not true and actual science-based testing has proven this time over time.
We’ll cover the topic of caffeine in a later post, but keep in mind that (in general) white tea has the highest amount of caffeine and black tea has the lowest – the exact opposite of what most people think they “know”!
However, brewing temperature, growing region, amount of shade the plant gets, whether the leaves are rolled or twisted, and more all play a factor into caffeine levels. Thus, it’s difficult to make an overarching statement about caffeine levels.
Why I Spend Money on Good Tea
I like to spoil myself with the finer things in life. But I’m also currently on a strict self-imposed budget.
How do I reconcile this?
I simply splurge on smaller items.
A pair of designer Jimmy Choos might cost $700 compared to my high-quality Cole Haan’s that cost $150. I literally will wear them 5 times a year. By foregoing this shoe splurge that I only get to enjoy 5x per year, I can save $550.
Instead, I splurge on the smaller things that I enjoy (in moderate amounts) every day. I like chocolate and tea. So I buy myself high-quality chocolate and tea.
The difference between high-quality tea and low-quality tea probably works out to be pennies per serving. But the experience is LUXURY, and the flavor & aroma are miles apart.
Finding The Best Tea to Drink For You
If you’re looking for a luxurious cup of tea, I can recommend some of my current favorites. For pricing, keep in mind that you will probably use 3 grams of tea leaves (approx. 1 tablespoon) to make 1 cup (8 oz) of tea.
VAHDAM: The is an excellent brand for high-quality, fresh tea leaves in bulk. I usually prefer black and oolong tea but have been wanting to explore white teas more – I’m currently testing out their white tea sampler, and it’s been amazing so far.
The tea is brought straight from plantations to the processing facility in India within hours of being harvested. After being processed and vacuum-sealed, the tea is delivered straight to warehouses internationally to be sold directly to customers instead of being passed thru to middle-men to be sold over months. You can also buy from the VAHDAM (link here) company website directly. There is an even greater variety of tea selections there, but they are packaged in smaller quantities. Use the coupon code ‘WELCOME25’ for 25% off (expires 12/31/2018).
August Uncommon Tea: This brand creates “tea for dreamers and thrill seekers.” Their teas are all unique blends of tea, herbs, dried fruit, flowers, and spices. If you don’t like the taste of plain tea and would like some curated flavors, this is a great brand to try.
Frontier Co-Op: I make nettle infusions (I fill 1/3 of my glass up with leaves and fill the rest with water; let it brew for at least 4 hours) for myself, which use A LOT of nettle leaves. For this purpose, I buy 1lb bags of nettle leaf at a time. I’ve found Frontier to be a great brand for high-quality, low-price, no-frills tea. It brews well and tastes good. Also, it’s fair-trade and organic.
Teatulia: If you’re more of the on-to-go type and you prefer teabags over bulk tea, skip the cheap tea bags that are infused with ~20% plastic. Teatulia provides tea bags made from corn silk, so the whole tea bag is compostable. Whether you want bulk (corn silk) tea bags or bulk tea, you can find high-quality tea here.
Oola Tea: If you’re not quite sure what flavors you like yet, a subscription box might be right for you. This brand offers organic tea with essential oil infusions for creative aromas and purposeful drinking. For $29.99, you receive 14 loose leaf sachets of 2 flavors [28 sachets total]. Here’s $10 off your first order. Once you find your favorite, you can place individual orders for specific blends on the website.
I’m a tea enthusiast, so I go through a lot of different variations of teas and brands. At one point last year, I had more than 30 types on hand. Have another favorite tea? Please share – I would love to try it out! =)